I heard something at the doctor’s office a few days ago that I’ve heard many times before – but this time it caught me. Not sure why, really, other than I’ve been a bit into improving my health habits over the last few years, which has maybe made me more aware of food language.
I promise this isn’t going to be paragraphs of how I went into a zone of eating only meat cut from golden-laced-grass fed cows. Or how my homegrown and chemically free cucumbers are only given filtered, distilled and blessed by the Pope water.
The conversation between myself and the nurse began because she noticed my improved numbers over the past twenty four months – both weight and bmi. I confirmed that I’ve been taking a slow and steady approach. Then she went into an explanation for herself – saying how she tries so hard to be good, but that sometimes it’s just hard. And I wondered why she was giving me a list of unsolicited excuses for being exactly who she is.
Here’s the thing. “Good?”
Can someone give me a boost while I climb onto this soapbox?
My relationship with food is a bit of a roller coaster. Starting with, I didn’t know we had a relationship. But apparently we do and apparently it explains where some of my animosity towards the phrases ‘I try to be good’ or ‘I’m going to be bad’ comes from.
I spent sixteen years as a gymnast and another twenty coaching. I competed all the way through college, putting hours and hours into training and travelling. Spoiler alert: Not everyone makes the Olympic team. Heck, I don’t even know if I was very good – or at least I do know that there were a lot of people better than me. I loved it, though, and would do it again in a heartbeat. My memories are full of achievements and failures, stuck landings and crash landings, sweat, blood, laughter, tears and a few trips to the local award stands.
One of the pieces I didn’t love? Hearing from a beam judge that she’d to take some tenths off my score because I was getting a little chubby around the middle. Hearing from a coach’s husband that we (a gaggle of teen gymnasts) should all be rubbing lotion on our legs so we wouldn’t get cellulite later. Hearing that I should eat more carrots than chips. Hearing at every single weekly college weigh in that I should keep trying to drop five pounds – regardless of if I already had.
This story is not going where you think it is. I actually consider myself very lucky. Whether it was how I was raised, by a very strong mother, or a gift from my stubborn side, I never got too wrapped up in what I was being told. I always felt like I was doing enough, that I was never going to be a size 2. I also never fell for the suggestion that dropping endless pounds was going to somehow open up a hidden magical talent for acquiring new and harder skills.
I didn’t get wrapped up, but I did hear it – and I did develop a mental tally, constantly running, of what I’d eaten in a day and how many calories I may have burned at the gym and maybe I should try running in addition to my regular workouts or do sit ups before school. My laziness kept me from becoming obsessed – I never started running in my limited spare time nor did I insert sit ups into my precious sleep time.
It should have been no surprise that immediately after my last competition, I went for it with food. I never stopped being active – I just wasn’t active enough to keep up with my new found culinary freedom. The mental tally kept running but more quietly most of the time. Except when it wasn’t. The roller coaster lived on.
I used the same verbiage as my nurse for years and years and years. I was either ‘being good’ by eating salads and fruit or ‘being bad’ by plowing through some fries. In an Oprah moment last year, I realized I was basing my entire worth on whether I which I was achieving – ‘being good’ or ‘being bad.’ I think that’s how women are – unable to compartmentalize those statements into just the eating part of their lives. Much of our identity is already wrapped up in how others see us – even (or especially) when eating.
We become embarrassed not to order a salad with grilled meat, low-calorie dressing and a diet soda if we are eating with anyone who wears a smaller size, lest they think ‘oh…that’s why she’s that big.’ We make excuses at the supermarket register when we unload ice cream, chocolate and wine (it’s been a rough day, that time of the month, it’s for a friend) onto the counter.
When I moved to Virginia, I spent a lot of time worrying about what others were seeing when they met me. I ate my way through the stress of the move, the stress of instant motherhood, the stress of loneliness. And now all these new people were meeting me as I was and they were tiny and, holy hell…there went the tally again. I began the process of reeling it in. Getting back to the gym. Getting back on the tennis courts. And changing my food choices. And, finally, changing my relationship with food in the way I needed to.
For me, it was purposefully taking took those words, good…bad, out of my vocabulary. I decided to no longer rate my days on whether I was good or bad. It is just a day. I make choices within that day. Some days, I choose the grilled nuggets. Some days, I choose Ben & Jerry’s. I re-route as needed, because I want to – not because I feel like I need to somehow suffer for investigating Reese’s latest version of chocolate and peanut butter. I no longer count my last meal as a status check on my entire being.
I don’t think anybody should. I think you should make your own choices for your own reasons. If you want to try something different, try something different. If you need to visit your old standby, do it. But don’t run around with a disclaimer that you’re going to be good tomorrow. You already are good just the way you are.
And so am I.